Chaos in Kyrgyzstan, with protests turning violent and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reportedly having fled the capital, has taken the media world a bit by surprise. Bloggers and readers are frantically searching for information, throwing up links to the precious few people offering informed analysis. So what's going on? We have tried to round up the best that's out there.
- Twin Causes: Energy Costs, Corruption Newsweek's Katie Paul writes that "on the surface, the protests were prompted by state-mandated hikes in the price of heating and electricity," while the underlying issues involve charges of "authoritarianism and corruption" in the current regime. Harper's magazine's Scott Horton, by contrast, calls the economic matters secondary and the corruption "the more immediate precipitant."
- And the U.S. Hasn't Helped The New York Times' Clifford Levy calls this a "potential embarrassment," considering the Obama administration's "courting" of President Baikyev "in an ultimately successful attempt to reverse his decision to close [an American air base]." Scott Horton at Harper's expands on this theme:
The unrest in Kyrgyzstan is among other things a test for the short-term, and probably short-sighted, policies behind the U.S./NATO support arrangements in Kyrgyzstan. The United States has curried favor with powerful political figures intent on rent seeking. What happens when those figures buckle and fold in the face of public unrest? The U.S. proclivity for “sweet deals” with those in power will complicate things in time of transition.
- Why You Should Care: the U.S. Air Base "If your reaction," writes Desert Storm vet James Joyner, echoing Levy's point, "is, 'Who the hell cares about Kyrgyzstan?' recall that Manus Air Base is the key transit point for US and NATO resupply in Afghanistan."
- Don't Worry About the Air Base Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for Intenrational Economics, brushes aside worries in the American media. "This is very much on a pecuniary basis," he explains: "the US pays a substantial amount to hold the airbase." He thinks the country will continue to be happy to host it, "regardless of regime." He also thinks it's highly likely Bakiyev will flee the country.
- Keep an Eye Out for Russia and China? Åslund also says that "the main thing in Kyrgysztan is gold and electricity," and Newsweek's Katie Paul takes a paragraph to explore the geopolitics around these resources: "China has been making overtures to Kyrgyzstan and other countries in Central Asia, eying the bounty of energy resources underneath their soils and seeking to move them away from their historic Russian orbit." Russia is preoccupied with the financial crisis, but in any event seems uninterested in helping President Bakiyev. "How does this play out now that opposition leaders are the ones in control? Your move, China."
- Does This Have to Do With Ethnicity? "Bakiev," notes Sean Paul Kelley--a onetime traveler in the region--at The Agonist, "is from the Ferghana lowlands and the upland/lowland divide informs a great deal of Kyrgyz politics." He says he'd "like to see more on the tribal and ethnic divide in Kyrgyz politics," as this is something his Kyrgyz friends tell him plenty about but about which there is scant information over here.